Thunder Selects Talented, High-Character Players

Thunder General manager Sam Presti has made it clear that a player’s character is every bit as important as the talent he brings to the court.

Character is a word that Presti has often used in describing the players he’s acquired since he became the GM in 2007.

Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, D.J. White, Kyle Weaver, Thabo Sefolosha, Nenad Krstic, to name a few, are all of high character, not to mention highly talented on the floor.

So when Presti discussed the Thunder’s newest additions in draft picks James Harden, B.J. Mullens and Robert Varden, he prefaced each evaluation with something along the lines of, "he’s our type of guy."

They were the obvious choices.

“I think the most important thing for us is, and this is how we’ve approached the draft in the past, if there’s someone who is a good fit for you and your organization and the core values that you have, then you take them,” Presti said on Thursday. “That’s just our philosophy.”

And that philosophy held true on draft night, as the Thunder came away with more talent, more assets, more high-character players.

Presti often talks about taking forward steps in the process that is building a championship-caliber team. And the only way to ensure that is to move forward with the right pieces.

For as obvious as that sounds, it’s not quite that easy.

Evaluating talent isn’t a simple task. Neither is finding out whether a player will fit the mold.
How does Presti know these players fit the mold?

Because Presti found out firsthand.

Presti admitted he likes to eat dinner at a reasonable hour. But when Harden came to town for his workout, he decided to get some shots up before the two went out for dinner. Mind you, this was the night before the workout. Dinner was scheduled. But Harden was shooting. Ultimately, that spoke more to Harden’s work ethic than his ability to keep dinner plans.

So the two had a later dinner.

“But it was worth it,” Presti said. “He understands that he’s got a lot of work in front of him, and that’s what’s impressive to me, too. He understands that there’s work and there’s expectations but he’s ready to meet those.”

And when Presti wanted to learn more about Harden the person, he flew to Los Angeles to meet with Harden’s mother.

“And to hear his mom talk about the team and the way she was able to express herself about people working together, this is a woman that has worked in the same company and the same job for 28 years,” Presti said. “There’s no question that her son carries that on. And that was a great conversation for us to have, to continue to learn about him as a person. He understands about expectations here, and he’s really excited about being a part of this organization.”

Meanwhile, there were a few knocks on Mullens.

Critics said the 7-1 center took plays off. He was far from polished. He hadn’t proven himself.

So the Thunder traveled to the Ohio State campus so Presti could take in a few Buckeyes’ practice sessions. They spoke to the Ohio State strength and conditioning coaches. They learned more about Mullens’ physical gifts. They also learned that he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and how he’s all about investing in getting better as a player.

That spoke to Mullen’s drive. And when he came to Oklahoma City for a workout, the Thunder saw more of the same, and then some.

“I think B.J. Mullens may have had a meal with just about every person on our scouting staff during his stay here,” Presti said. “We get to know the guys as people and they get to know the organization as a whole.”

When the describing how the Thunder acquired Vaden, Presti said the Thunder was fortunate enough to “sneak” into the end of the second round to snatch up the University of Alabama-Birmingham product. Considered a high-level shooter, the Thunder gave the Charlotte Bobcats cash for his services.

“He’s a guy who has spent a lot of time at the gym,” Presti said. “ We think he’s a guy that’s about winning and we like his dedication to shoot the ball. We’re excited to work with him.”

So the process moving forward will not change. High-character players with proven talent, an upside and the desire to work is what the Thunder is looking for. That’s why, by the end of the draft, the Thunder felt that it became a better basketball team.

“The process is the same – we’re trying to find guys who we feel like can add to the culture of the basketball team and grow with us,” Presti said, “and tonight we feel like we accomplished that.”

Contact Chris Silva